"Art has always been to me a stimulating influence; it has always taught me without upbraiding me; elevated me without humbling me; and appealed to me because of the fact that only the best and truest in art survives." These were the words of Lord Leverhulme — entrepreneur, philanthropist, and CIMA's first president in 1919 — at the opening of the Lady Lever Art Gallery in 1922 in Port Sunlight Village in Merseyside in the north-west of the UK.
Now part of National Museums Liverpool, the neoclassical-style gallery was dedicated to Leverhulme's wife, Elizabeth, who died in 1913. The gallery displays large parts of Leverhulme's largely British-focused 20,000-piece collection — paintings, sculpture, furniture, ceramics, and textiles. Particularly strong is its collection of 19th-century Pre-Raphaelite paintings as well as pictures by Thomas Gainsborough, George Stubbs, John Constable, and J.M.W. Turner. There is also a major collection of Wedgwood jasperware — a type of coloured pottery.
Leverhulme's company, which eventually became Unilever after merging with Dutch oils and fats company Margarine Unie in 1929, started producing Sunlight soap in 1884. Three years later weekly output was 450 tonnes of the individually wrapped bars of soap. That year, 1887, he also bought a site — which he named Port Sunlight — for a new factory and a high-standard, purpose-built village with leisure facilities for its workers.
Today, Port Sunlight Village's 900 buildings, including the Lady Lever Art Gallery, are Grade II-listed — in a protected category on the UK government's National Heritage List for England, which means there is control over the changes that can be made to the buildings' interiors and exteriors. Leverhulme's provision of better housing for his employees is widely considered a long-term success — it wasn't until the 1980s that Unilever began to sell off the houses and lifted the restriction that only employees could live there.
The art gallery's collection can be explored at liverpoolmuseums.org.uk or on the Lady Lever Art Gallery app available on the Apple App Store. In addition to Leverhulme's passion for art was a steadfast belief in the importance of strong accountancy to business. In his foreword to the first issue (June 1921) of The Cost Accountant, the official journal of the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants, as CIMA was known then, he wrote: "What the compass is to the mariner under modern conditions of navigation as compared with steering by stars or by sight under old-world time conditions so is an efficient cost and works accountancy system to modern conditions of commerce."
Oliver Rowe is an FM magazine senior editor. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact him at Oliver.Rowe@aicpa-cima.com.